NHC Virtual Book Talk: The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots

July 22, 2020

July 22, 2020

Brenda E. Stevenson (Fellow, 2015–16), Nickoll Family Endowed Chair in the Department of History and Professor of African American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles

Organization of American Historians’ James A. Rawley Prize as Best Book on History of Race Relations, 2014

On March 16, 1991, Latasha Harlins, a fifteen-year-old African American girl, entered the Empire Liquor Market in South Central Los Angeles. Behind the counter was a Korean woman named Soon Ja Du. Latasha walked to the refrigerator cases in the back, put a bottle of orange juice in her backpack, and approached the cash register with two dollar bills in her hand—the price of the juice. Moments later she was dead, shot in the back of the head by Du. A jury convicted Du of manslaughter, but Joyce Karlin, the judge presiding over the case, sentenced her only to probation, community service, and a $500 fine.

Brenda Stevenson meticulously reconstructs these events and their aftermath, showing how they set the stage for the explosive LA Riots that erupted a year later. Through these three women, Stevenson reveals not only the human reality and social repercussions of these events but provides a deep history of immigration, ethnicity, and gender dynamics in modern America.